Advance Notice: Briefs

Nessel applauds court decision dumping Trump-era changes to the Endangered Species Act

By: - July 11, 2022 1:52 pm

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is applauding a federal court’s decision abandoning Trump-era changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“We must continue to prioritize protection of Michigan’s natural resources, including vulnerable wildlife populations,” Nessel said.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, March 5, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

In 2019, the Democrat joined 17 other attorney generals and the City of New York in filing a lawsuit after the Trump administration introduced rules that this coalition argued would “dramatically weaken protections and reduce federal ESA enforcement.”

The U.S. District Court, Northern District of California announced the new rules would be vacated in a decision filed on Tuesday. 

The Endangered Species Act, written by the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn), was enacted in 1973 “to prevent the extinction of various fish, wildlife, and plant species.”

In August 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alongside the National Marine Fisheries Service, modified three rules affecting how the ESA is implemented. According to the court’s opinion, these changes modified how the services add, remove and reclassify endangered and threatened species and the criteria for designating their critical habitats. 

It also removed a Fish and Wildlife Service policy which automatically extended some endangered species protections to threatened species, and changed how the services work with federal agencies to prevent harm to listed species and their habitats. 

The coalition challenging these changes was particularly concerned with actions adding economic considerations to the ESA’s species-focused analyses, expanding exemptions for designating critical habitats, reducing the consultation and analyses required before federal agency action and pushing responsibilities for protecting endangered species and habitats onto the states, among other changes.

In January 2021, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 13990 directing the services to evaluate and revise or rescind environmental and public health-related regulations issued by the previous administration that conflicted with national objectives listed in the executive order, including the ESA rules introduced in 2019. 

The administration later signaled it would revise and rescind many of these 2019 regulations.

“As a state with more than two dozen animal and plant species that are considered endangered or threatened, I applaud this ruling and its positive impact on conservation efforts not just in Michigan but around the country,” said Nessel in a prepared statement. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Environmental Conservation Online System lists 25 species in Michigan as threatened or endangered. The list includes Piping plover, whooping crane, gray wolf, Karner blue butterfly, as well as other plant and animal species.

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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson is a reporting intern for the Michigan Advance. A recent MSU graduate, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He has reported on community events, breaking news, state policy, and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.